Wow. Horribly flawed, terribly interesting, and eminently watchable. The end result explored ideas of what makes life worth living, of predation, atypical economies, with mild success. It has a polished style and beautiful aesthetics (a scene with Timberlake and Seyfried skinny dipping at night in a Northern California bay, lit by the green glow of their life clocks, and a looming mansion set above them on the cliff comes to mind). So I liked it, had fun with it, it didn't waste my...time or anything. But this could have been so much better, if not for these five flaws.
1: The ridiculous way time is exchanged in this world. This is a dystopian alternate reality where lifespan, time, is currency, and everyone has a green digitally lit counter on their forearm that represents how much lifespan, time, one has left. You use this lifespan to pay for things. People exchange this currency by either gripping one another's forearms or applying a device/reader to one's forearm while a ridiculous, globule noise indicates that a time transfer is taking place. It's sounds ridiculous, looks weird, and happens maybe 100 times in the movie.
Also, even more ridiculous, you can by force steal someone's lifespan by gripping their forearm and willing it away, even when they are asleep. And don't even get me started on the "fighting," wherein people grab each other's arms, like in a stationary arm wrestling contest, and will each other's time away - it was like the sex depicted in Barbarella where people just touched hands, but that was a dumb "satirical" vehicle for a dirty Frenchmen to keep his sex symbol wife and In Time, to my knowledge, has no such excuses. And whoever invented the structure of this technology in this dystopian alternate reality did a really poor job and basically ensured inefficient, low-level predation among the poor, and risky, high-level predation against the rich. The film missed on a lot of logistics issues, ones that didn't make sense in the context of the world created.
2: Justin Timberlake is not a good actor. He just can't sell emotion, has no depth to anything he pushes out. He ruined one of the best scenes in the movie, one which was both emotionally affecting and cool, by letting out a cry of rage and despair that sounded like Big Foot's death scream. He's likeable and cool, but his acting hollowed this film out.
3: Way too many time jokes, puns, and references. Made it harder to take seriously.
4: It's like they didn't give the story enough...time to develop. It's a breathless, hectic movie, quickly moving from scene to scene, with very little character development and an emphasis on thrills and action and running and hastily designed plans. Very unlike Gattaca in that way, more on that in 5.
5: Gattaca is a favorite of mine. The same director did In Time (and The Truman Show), which seemed very similar: dystopian alternate reality, story of an individual who is disadvantaged in this world for unjust reasons, romance with someone who is advantaged, a hawkish policemen on the trail. But where Gattaca succeeded was by making it personal. It depicted the intimate story of Ethan Hawke's Vincent's attempt to climb a "ladder" and transcend the genetic barriers put in his way, to transcend all the way into space from nothing. His sacrifices, risks, and struggles felt personal. He poured himself out, and you could feel it (the Michael Nyman score really added a lot, stringed, stretched, striving yearning, especially the second time Vincent swam into the ocean in a contest of wills against his brother "How are you doing this Vincent? How have you done any of this? We have to go back." "It's too late for that. We're closer to the other side." "What other side? You wanna drown us both?" "You wanna know how I did it? This is how I did it Anton. I never saved anything for the swim back.", God, the movie is fantastic). It was his story, his small story, in the context of a wider dystopian world, a world Vincent overcame, but importantly didn't conquer, didn't transform. He wasn't a messiah, he wasn't perfect, he was a relatable human being.
JT in In Time is a messiah. A cool, frenetic, man of almost constant action, who has a solution to every problem, as he moves through each scene with reckless swagger. Everything he does pretty much works out, he changes the world, etc. It's hard to feel a deep connection with someone who can do no wrong, who gets out of every jam without missing a beat. Cooler, safer, much more distant.